[Sundara] Karma’s gonna get you – Gonna knock you right on the head…

Sundara Karma Irving Plaza

Sundara Karma (photo: Paul Bachmann for Live4ever Media)

Austin’s annual SXSW extravaganza – so much more than a music festival these days – never fails to give us the opportunity to chat with the best young artists. True to form, at the Pirate Studios-sponsored Live4ever Media Lounge, we got a rare chance to sit down with Sundara Karma, who we reckon may not be the saviors of Rock n’ Roll but seem on immediate standby to give it some much-needed CPR.

The band’s debut album Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect was released just over a year ago, making us say things like “Part hymnal, part soul-searching, big emotions are up for sale..” and “They’re tapping into our device-obsessed culture and seeing it for the void that it is, which takes maturity.” As you might guess, we were very happy to catch up with their singer, the super exotically named Oscar Lulu and the rest of the band, prising out the skinny on a soft spot for Biggie Smalls, the vicissitudes of social media and tripping with U2.

In amongst a long day of press the frontman talked about their hectic schedule – they’re back out in America from the middle of April – and then the future: “More music, more shows…we’ve got a lot of festivals this summer” before they then squeeze in a trip to Asia later on in the year, a visit which he reveals “Has always been a dream of ours”.

Sundara Karma

Sundara Karma live at SXSW (Photo: Michael Smyth for Live4ever Media)

Wisely though they’re keen to keep some perspective, looking no further into the future than starting the process of recording a follow-up to “Youth is..”, because as they concede with some typically British understatement, “Things change”. It’s a logical defence mechanism against being fortune’s hostage, a construct which when pressed they retreat further into, puckishly declaring their big aspirations as “Lots of money…and yachts. That’s the dream”.

Such is the epic nature of their music – they’ve been compared to globe dominating acts like Arcade Fire, Kings of Leon and Muse – that even these dreams, clearly spoken in jest, are all possibilities. Not, they claim, that you would easily join the dots between Karmic sound and influences; they’re making this impressively glorious noise whilst simultaneously listening to “Anything from Fleetwood Mac to Biggie Smalls”. Neither are they big fans of what they see as pretence, helming instead a process in which they claim they’re different to other more or less grandiose bands by paying less attention to how people should think they sound, instead being to an extent “Not really in control of what comes out”.

Sundara Karma – ‘A Young Understanding’

Like many artists they’re particularly wary of the power of social media, most obviously it’s capacity to give a platform for the sublime to the ridiculous. The singer confides with us that he was once personally taken in by a story about hover boards; “I felt a like a dick”, whilst dismissing the phenomenon of fake news and those who maliciously, dismissing around 90% of its content posters by insisting “You wanna know what you’re talking about..some people get too political”.

The sticks and stones of anonymous critics aside, the modicum of success they’ve achieved to date has had some benefits: after their last American tour, the band tell us they decamped to LA via Las Vegas and more specifically the desert beauty of the Joshua Tree national park in Southern California. Once ensconced in a hot tub under the stars they then “Tripped balls” whilst amongst other things listening to Bono nurdle through the Streets Have No Name, an act of contrition part jokey tourist vibe, part salute to a musical effigy still powerful thirty years on.

As is the case with many critically feted outfits in recent years they’re also highly suspicious of any next big thing baggage. Asked whether guitar music can undergo a revival in the face of changes in popular taste and a crumbling business model they remain philosophical, if guarded, diffidently opining “It’s all cyclical..people are always sick and tired of something and they’ll want something else..and it just keeps going.”

As the conversation closes a last question helps take stock of what they’ve achieved, having spent almost half a life in bands despite being barely in their twenties: are they wise beyond their years? The reply belies their phlegmatic outlook “Comes with being comfortable with one another”, an almost inevitable by-product of being in various iterations of the group since the age of thirteen.

Grounded, together and letting their music roam free, Sundara Karma aren’t waiting for their time to come.

Sundara Karma play Rough Trade, New York on April 12th

(Andy Peterson)

Check out some of our interview’s highlights in the clip below:

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